Category: welfare

Why Cato was so wrong about welfare

By Alan Bean

Researchers at the Libertarian Cato Institute made headlines last month by claiming that welfare recipients are a lot better off than minimum wage workers.  A lot of people want to work, the study suggested, but when you can make the equivalent of $35,000 in benefits, you’d be crazy to take a job on the lower rungs of the wage ladder.

Ergo, government largess has made poor people dependent on the dole.

It took several weeks for cooler heads to realize that Cato’s “research” started with a conclusion and went looking for facts to back it up.   (To see just how flawed the Cato study was read Josh Barro’s post in the Business Insider below.)

By the time Archie-and-the-debunkers fire up, of course, no one is paying attention, so the study’s authors won’t have to face the music and dance.  People who work in ‘Think tanks’ are rarely paid to think; they are reimbursed for providing facts to match the prejudices of whoever pays the piper.

Josh Barro has been called a libertarian, a conservative and a liberal, but he’s actually a center-right thinker who doesn’t buy anyone’s orthodoxy.  That’s the hopeful thing about blogs; in theory at least they free opinion from the constraints of moneyed interests . . . assuming that anyone is listening.

I have never understood the appeal of libertarian thought.

Sure, applying simple market principles to the war on drugs can be highly instructive.  And the libertarian suspicion of our costly imperial-military machinery resonates with me.

But the idea that government intervention inevitably makes things worse is horribly simplistic. (more…)

Is the “fiscal cliff” debate a proxy for a conversation about race?

By Alan Bean

Are we talking about the “fiscal cliff” because we are afraid to talk about race?  Imara Jones of Colorlines thinks so.

This is not your standard, “hooray for our side” culture war trope; the argument here is that the blue team is just as responsible for muddying the waters as the red team.

According to this account, Republicans gained power in the late 1970s, and have held power ever since, by arguing that programs designed to help the poor are morally debilitating gifts squandered on lazy black people.  The argument proved so successful that Democrats challenged it at their peril.  As Jones points out, it was a Democratic president that ended welfare as we know it.

Among Republicans, the idea that black people vote for Democratic candidates because they want welfare is deeply entrenched.  But the success of the Republican “welfare is toxic” argument is best reflected in responses to the common opinion poll question about whether welfare does more harm than good.  When the question for first asked in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll in 1995, 72% of whites, 57% of current or former welfare recipients, and 52% of African Americans agreed.  The numbers haven’t changed that much in intervening years.

It is difficult to argue that the government needs to do more to help poor people of color when even the recipients of government assistance think welfare is counterproductive.  Barack Obama knows that, given the current state of public opinion, Democrats can’t win this argument.  On the other hand, a majority of Republicans support the idea of raising taxes on the rich, so that’s the way the argument is framed.

It might be easier to argue for compassionate budget priorities if “welfare as we know it” was replaced by programs dedicated to providing meaningful work to unemployed individuals who aren’t responsible for raising young children.  Unfortunately, the jobs our economy creates for unskilled workers come with poverty wages.  Walmart routinely counsels its employees in the art of applying for government-sponsored poverty programs; they know most of the jobs they advertise don’t pay a living wage.    (more…)